OxBlog

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

# Posted 5:47 PM by Patrick Porter  

FASCIST ICONOGRAPHY: Here's a civics issue to get our teeth into. Should all the statues, memorials, and public symbols of fascism be torn down? Or should some be preserved?

Which is more important: to symbolise our total rejection of fascism? Or to leave traces of it as a grisly reminder of its reality in the past?

If it is part of the landscape and the fabric of a city, should it be reflected in the city's topography?

This is a real question in Berlin on the eve of the World Cup:

Nazi-era statues depicting muscular, Aryan supermen at a stadium in Berlin, where the football World Cup final will be played in July, fuelled a bitter controversy Tuesday less than two weeks before the games open.

Lea Rosh, an activist who played a key role in building Berlin's Holocaust Memorial, said the six-metre-high stone statues had "to at least be covered up."

The sculptures by Third Reich artists, including Arno Breker, are still on display at the Olympic Stadium used by Adolf Hitler for the 1936 Olympic Games...

Writer Ralph Giordano said merely covering up the Nazi statues was not enough.

"They should be removed and destroyed," said Giordano. "Just to cover them up would be very symbolic of the way in which Germany has dealt with its Nazi past."

But a leading city historian and vice-president of Berlin's city council, Christoph Stoelzl, rejected any such move and instead suggested putting up a text explaining the history of the statues at the stadium.

"There is no danger posed by these sculptures," he said. "The connection between a cult of the body and racism is very complicated because there was both a rightist and a leftist variation of the cult of the body."

The cult of the body may well have had a complex relationship with Nazism. But its location at the stadium serves to identify it in this instance as a monument to the Hitlerian ideal of racial purity and its corollary, the struggle against racial degenerates. The 'new man' of Nazi mythology was an icon of annihilation as well as physical perfection.

Maybe the very act of destroying the statues should be memorialised - a large mural depicting citizens dismantling it, with an accompanying text explaining why.

This gesture, perhaps, would both enshrine the rejection of fascist architecture while reminding people that the evil of fascism existed, and that in remembrance of its victims and in gratitude to the people who defeated it, we have no right to forget it completely.

(21) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
Patrick

the traditional Roman fasces are a bundle of rods tied together with a ribbon. You'll find it on back of the US dollar. The eagle is clutching the fasces.

So eliminating this isn't going to happen. Instead, I prefer to think of it rather as Weber's legitimate monopoly on the use of force rather than as a fascist icon.
 
I should think obviously not. Some damn fine art is produced by people with awful political ideas in homage to terrible men. Surely we all should learn to deal with that.

On an only tangentially related note, because I an a Hindu I have lots of swastikas up various places in my house, and my parents have them hanging over the door. I know that that makes some people uncomfortable, but, the heck with it: I'm not really willing to give up our ancient symbols because somebody misappropriated them. But note that the same can be true of statuary or music or what have you: it belongs in a tradition and a line, it harks back to older things and will itself, if any good, inspire new things: as time goes on it develops a long context outside of the circumstances of its creation.

Of course if the statues in question are hideous by all means trash 'em.
 
Hey anonymous and sanjay,

you both make the point that certain symbols are inoffensive in their contexts where they might be otherwise provocative in other contexts. I agree. (Whether they are the fasces symbolising the magistrates authority of the Roman Republic, or the Hindu use of the swastika.)

But I would draw a distinction between those examples and the statues monumentalising the 'new man' of Nazism, as they are used in the context of a stadium in which Hitler wanted to showcase the prowess of the Aryan superman.

I can see the argument for knocking that art down, but not an argument for obliterating the memory of it.

NB: I'm not arguing for a censorious law dictating which things can and cannot be shown in public, but am wondering what decision is the best one for the city to make voluntarily.
 
Leave'em up.
They can watch the Brits beat the Germans at the Brits' national game, just as the Brits beat the Germans at the Germans' national game.
 
They should remain.
The idea of an inscription or text explaining the origins of the statues is of benefit; the public will be reminded why these statues were made.

There has been plenty of time to consider dismantling the statues. I don't think that the arrival of a sports tournament is a sound reason for suddenly deciding upon what should or should not have been done.
 
Actually, I think you have it exactly backwards. Mel Brooks' Springtime for Hitler did a lot more damage than any form of censorship. Belittle it. Co-opt it. Trivialize it. This makes them defend it. But if you forbid it, then the symbols become more powerful, not less.
 
Iran seems to be in the need for some
fascist statues. Perhaps Germany
could dismantle, ship and re-erect
them in Tehran.
 
Hmm the ancient Greeks also made alot of statues to their muscular prowess. They also didn't think much of those barbarians who were barely above animals. Not to mention butchering and/or enslaving them if they lost in war.

But now when we think of ancient greek statues we don't see them as symbolizing this.

- Factory
 
Leave them in place, but introduce flaws in each of them.

The statues are meant to represent the "perfect" man according to Nazi mythology. Make that man "imperfect".

Do it in a ceremony. Invite some concentration camp survivors to break pieces off some of the statues. Have kids do others to signal that future generations reject this mythology. Have noted politicians break some of them to show cultural and political rejection.

I think they should be left because removing the statues looks like erasing history, but making them flawed adds the symbolism of rejecting what they stood for.

Chris
 
The Germans opened up a former WWII "work camp" to house Brit soccer fans.
 
Out of interest, how is it possible for the city authorities to 'voluntarily make a decision' by any way other than the introduction of a 'censorious law'?

Personally I like Chris' idea.
 
Hi, Patrick.

Actually I think it's more than, the statues might be inoffensive in other contexts. It's that, the statues, offensive as they are, might well end up in part of an artistic tradtion from which other, impressive art emerges (cf. Leni Riefenstahl). That's how this stuff works. So leave it, and let's see.

Unless (1) it's ugly as hell, in which case whatever comes of it, screw it, or (2) some tourist boycott or the like makes it expensive as hell.
 
Isn't this what the Romans used to do? Pass an act of damnatio over the dead disfavoured Emperor, and then go about crushing his statues to bits, effacing his name from public works, striking out his edicts, etc.
 
How about adding a statue of Jesse Owens?
 
i really liked chris's idea, too. covering or removing the statues would be a too symbolic denial of history, so adding imperfections to them would be a nice way to parlay their striking symbolism into something positive. upon reflection, though, i realized that removing bits of the statues would play into the hands of those who built them. if you take the s-bahn from the stadium to friedrichstr., and go to museum island, you can see the outstanding collection of ancient sculpture at the pergamon museum. a unifying feature among the pieces is that they lack pieces-- extremities like fingers, noses, etc.--just as one would expect from ancient architects. this appearance of ancient greatness inspired the theory of "ruinenwert" (ruin value), which underpinned albert speer's construction approach: that which the "thousand-year reich" builds, especially in the neoclassical style, should be built such that its ruins would appear noble a thousand years from that time, just as the ruins of the greeks do to us today. ironically, speer saw the reich's ruins much sooner than he expected, but in any case, making the statues look older than they are isn't necessarily a step in the right direction. they're quite new--as new as the crimes of the third reich. so, retain them and explain them. if they can't be explained, then neither can the olimpiastadion itself, or the finance ministry, or the placement of the victory column, or many aspects of the capital-- and not just superficial, architectural ones, but also those of its national psychology and soul. berlin must live in the present and also engage its history honestly. this kind of difficult engagement is worth the effort: berlin is a great city.

that said, poking fun at the inbred aryan ideal wouldn't be out of order either. if hans ended up wearing a rainbow wig or beads thanks to a fun-loving soccer fan, it wouldn't be the end of the world.
 
edit. should read: "just as one would expect from ancient *artifacts*" (not architects).
 
There is a danger here. I have just watched Coriolanus, which in the programme I read was banned in post-war Germany because it was thought to be anti-democratic and because it was used for nazi propaganda. Art will always be used and misused by dictators, as it will be used and misused by other governments and movements. Do we start banning everything because of possible heritages, possible usages, past usages?

PS If anyone is in London, go and see Coriolanus at the Globe. It was great fun.
 
well, that was a persuasive post.
 
Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
 
While we're destroying statues, let's burn some books for good measure! Anyone who disagrees can jusr be airbrushed out of the picture afterwards...
 
Jeff,

there's a difference:
the statues in question are presumably part of a stadium which the state is using to host an international sporting event. the state is not obliged to preserve a statue that glorifies Nazi dreams of an Aryan superman.

whereas burning books means removing them from public availability and attacking intellectual freedom.

this is different from the state deciding not to endorse an icon in a public space.

people should still be able to make their own statues or read or write their own books on whatever they want, short of directly inciting violence.

One can oppose banning free expression, but still appeal to the discretion of states not to endorse Nazi icons.
 
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